Feb. 27, 2004 – Rep. Donna M. Christensen and five other members of the Congressional Black Caucus said at a press conference in Miami on Friday that the United States should offer temporary protected status for Haitians fleeing the current unrest in their nation.
Temporary protected status "is a measure that has been granted to other nations' citizens during times of conflict," a release issued by Christensen on Friday stated.
Christensen was in Miami as part of a congressional homeland security delegation that is due to visit the Virgin Islands on Saturday and Sunday and then stop at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility in Cuba before returning to Washington, D.C. (See "Security delegation to visit V.I. this weekend".)
While France called this week for a United Nations-backed peace force in Haiti, which is in the third week of political turmoil, President Bush said the United States would not tolerate a Haitian refugee influx into Florida. "I have made it abundantly clear to the Coast Guard that we will turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore," he said.
The comment harkened back to a quarter-century ago, when it was commonplace for Haitians to risk — and often lose — their lives in unseaworthy vessels in the hope of making their way to Florida's shores. Many who survived the passage were then detained for months and years at Miami's notorious federal Krome Detention Facility and then, in many cases, returned to Haiti, in contrast with the welcoming treatment afforded Cuban exiles with their special status.
The current political situation could have direct implications for the Virgin Islands. On Wednesday, National Park Service and federal immigration officials apprehended 21 illegal aliens on St. John, and authorities said most of them appeared to be Haitian nationals. (See "Apprehended aliens said to be mainly Haitians".)
Christensen's release said she was joined at the press conference in Miami on Friday by U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia).
Christensen also said in the release that her Miami visit afforded her an opportunity to renew her acquaintance with Adam Goldstein, executive vice president of Royal Caribbean International, and to "support Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards' efforts to bring cruise ships back to St. Croix."
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